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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2005 Week 06 Hansard (Tuesday, 3 May 2005 2005) . . Page.. 1676 ..


developing a reputation for being one of the fiercest and most loyal members Australian politics had ever seen.

Although he was born in Brisbane, Al Grassby’s early years involved a great deal of travel. He spent many of his formative years in England, where he enlisted in the army after his father’s death in an air raid. Courted by the British Labour Party, Al declined the offer of preselection, instead returning to the country of his birth and joining the ALP in his early 20s.

There comes a defining moment in the life of most politically active individuals; with Al perhaps it was his move to the Riverina town of Griffith, where he came face to face with the reality of life as experienced by many first-generation migrants—mainly Italian farmers and farm workers.

As early as the 1950s, Al was helping to improve the quality of life of these newest Australians. He helped establish one of the country’s first bilingual radio programs, funded from the profits of a continental music club. In 1962 Al married Ellnor and one of Australia’s most colourful political partnerships was born, followed within a year by another birth—that of their daughter, Gabriella.

Al became secretary of the ALP branch in Griffith before being elected the state member for Murrumbidgee in 1965. A few years later Al was persuaded by Gough Whitlam to run for the federal seat of Riverina. He won the seat—one of the biggest in the country—in 1969 with a 26½ per cent swing.

As Minister for Immigration in Gough Whitlam’s government from 1972 to 1974, Al Grassby was responsible for profound reforms to Australian immigration and citizenship law. These were reforms that changed forever the way Australians saw themselves and their place in the world.

Al achieved an astounding amount in a few short years. He pushed for changes to the citizenship act so that Asians and Europeans were put on an equal footing with British applicants for citizenship. In part as a result of his advocacy on citizenship, the number of migrants taking up citizenship rose by almost 50 per cent between 1972 and 1973.

Among other things, Mr Grassby was responsible for giving the parents of Australian-born children the right to remain in the country, taking the words “British subject” off Australian passports, granting passage assistance to Vietnamese orphans and abolishing discrimination in the awarding of tourist visas.

Al pushed for the exclusion of racially selected sporting teams from Australia and for the removal of limits on the amount of non-English language programming on television and radio. In the area of services he oversaw the establishment of migrant education centres in the state capitals. He also established an immigration advisory council committee to look at discrimination and exploitation of migrants and migrant access to community services. Al funded emergency classroom accommodation so that migrant students could receive specialised help, and oversaw the development of a home tutoring scheme aimed at helping migrant women adapt to their new home.


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